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What is Lentinan?

By Vasanth S.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lentinan is an herbal medicine derived from the Japanese shiitake mushroom, scientifically known as Lentinula edodes. The mushroom is a fungal growth, or fruiting body, that typically appears on the bark of broad-leafed trees and usually features a light-amber-colored stem and gill. It is a popular ingredient in Asian foods and in traditional Chinese medicine. Generally, it is used to boost the immune system and to alleviate the symptoms of cancer.

Individual glucose units make up the lentinan molecule, which is located in the cell walls of the shiitake mushroom. It is a water-soluble polysaccharide that has a triple helix structure. The beneficial properties of the molecule are generally reduced when the structure of the polysaccharide deforms, usually from heat exposure.

The amount of lentinan in an individual mushroom is quite small and generally does not have effective therapeutic uses. Cells also have a hard time absorbing the polysaccharide since the body quickly metabolizes it. This reduces the potential health benefits of foods prepared with shiitake mushroom, as well as oral supplements that contain the shiitake mushroom.

A better way to obtain the benefits of lentinan is to use concentrated extracts of lentinan that are typically prepared from shiitake mushroom cultures. The extract is generally prepared as a solution and is injected directly into the bloodstream to increase cellular absorption. An intravenous (IV) line is used to administer a dose of lentinan, typically between 2 and 10 milligrams per week, to treat individuals with cancer and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Laboratory experiments have revealed that lentinan reduces the growth of some cancer cells and can even induce cancer cell death. Additional experiments with lentinan indicate that it increases the activity of immune cells, such as T-cells, cytokines, monocytes, and tumor necrosis factor. The boosted immune response was found to hinder some types of bacteria and viruses, including staphylococcus aureus and vesicular stomatitis virus.

There are several reported side effects associated with the intravenous use of extracts obtained from the shiitake mushroom. The most severe conditions include anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic reaction, and granulocytopenia, which is a reduction in a type of white blood cells used to fight off infections. This generally leads to chronic bacterial infections of the skin, lungs, and throat. Elevated liver enzymes in the blood are another side effect reported with the intravenous use of shiitake extract. Contact dermatitis is a concern associated with shiitake mushrooms, but it is usually a problem for production workers that are exposed to large quantities of the mushroom.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Feb 17, 2012

People who have genital warts can benefit from taking lentanin orally. My cousin had this problem, and her doctor recommended first having laser surgery and then taking the supplement.

He told her that it wasn't a guarantee that they wouldn't come back, but oral lentanin could greatly increase her chances of being wart-free for good. He said that she should take lentinan a couple of times a day for the first couple of months following her surgery.

It has now been three years since her surgery, and she has not had any more warts. It's always great when you find a natural extract that can heal your condition, because there is more of a chance of it being better for your body.

By StarJo — On Feb 16, 2012

I have a friend with HIV, and he was involved in a study to examine the effects of lentinan on the virus. It appears that it is helping him.

He gets a series of injections each week. The researchers have found that lentinan can block the virus from getting inside of cells. It does something with their receptors that is quite effective, though I'm not sure of the exact details.

Before he started participating in this clinical trial, my friend had lost hope. Now, he has reason to believe in a future for himself. He is glad to be a part of something so crucial to humankind.

By orangey03 — On Feb 15, 2012

@seag47 – I think that the vulnerability to bacterial infections only occurs in some people. Just as some people react violently because they are allergic to a medication, some people's bodies react in another way to lentinan than others.

My aunt had stomach cancer, and her treatment included lentinan. She had no problems with infections while taking the injections, and she actually felt better.

Lentinan stopped her cancer from spreading, and that saved her life. She had already had surgery to remove a tumor, and taking lentinan after the procedure blocked any remaining cancer cells from spreading.

By seag47 — On Feb 15, 2012

I find it strange that lentinan can both boost the immune system and cause bacterial infections. How does it do both?

If a person is suffering from a weakened body because of cancer, then isn't it dangerous for them to take something that could cause them to get chronic infections? Yet, the same extract is supposed to protect against certain other diseases.

I guess it's about like any drug. There will always be side effects associated with anything that you put into your body, and you have to be the one to decide if the benefits outweigh the cons.

By KaBoom — On Feb 14, 2012

I've definitely seen oral supplements that contain shiitake mushrooms. It's interesting to know that this basically has no health benefits. You have to be so careful these days about buying supplements, since they're basically unregulated. Some do work, but some are no better than snake oil!

Anyway, I think shiitake mushroom are delicious to eat, whether they give me any health benefits or not. This also makes me wonder if any other mushrooms are hiding disease fighting compounds!

By indemnifyme — On Feb 14, 2012

@sunnySkys - I think since cancer is such a serious disease, people want to try to do everything they can to prevent themselves from getting. Unfortunately, there are a lot of crazy ideas out there about what to eat and what supplements to take to prevent cancer.

Either way, I still think it's pretty amazing that a compound extracted from shiitake mushrooms can fight cancer. I mean, mushrooms for cancer. Who would have thought?

The side effects sound pretty unpleasant though, especially the chronic infections. Still, I imagine it's better than cancer.

By sunnySkys — On Feb 13, 2012

I'm glad I stumbled on this article. One of my friends has been insisting to me for the longest time that shiitake mushrooms are medicinal mushrooms. My friend eats them all the time and swears they can prevent cancer.

I thought this sounded a little suspicious, so I decided to do some research before adding a ton of shiitake mushrooms to my diet, and I'm glad I did. I like mushrooms, but I don't like them that much!

I'm going to report back to my friend that the cancer fighting compound, lentinan, has to be extract from the mushroom and administered intravenously.

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